My pastor often talks about the need for an attitude of gratitude.
I think that when you have a deep appreciation for what you have, you want less. And keeping your wants in check often means spending less, always a good thing in my view.
But what if you are trying to help others and they don’t appear to be grateful?
I was recently sent a comment from a reader who thinks that a lot of people who receive assistance aren’t thankful enough. The person’s observations made me think of our overall view of the poor, downtrodden or financially strapped.
“I used to volunteer at a food bank,” the person wrote during my weekly online discussion, in which people can anonymously post questions and comments. “The recipients of the generosity and kindness of companies, farmers, and individuals had horrible, angry, entitled attitudes.”
The reader said people were upset about fewer food choices on days when the food bank was not stocked as fully as on other days. They were, the person said, “generally unappreciative of the entire operation.”
Then came this: “Volunteerism has been on my mind a lot lately, and I want to get involved in something in my new community with food scarcity and needy families, but I’d like to do it for people who actually want and appreciate help. Any suggestions in northern Virginia?”
As someone who volunteers a great deal of my time, I do have some suggestions. But it’s not about places to volunteer. It’s about the attitude you should bring when you serve people in financial need.
●Don’t judge. Let’s look at the perception that people at the food bank were complaining about the lack of food selection.
Yes, something is better than nothing. But just because they are needy doesn’t mean they can’t be dissatisfied. Their wants and desires aren’t diminished by their financial condition.
My children once were volunteering at a food bank, packing donation bags. On that day, potatoes were the only food available.
When you volunteer, you have to look beyond what people are saying or even doing and see things from their perspective. Consider their back story.
On the so-called “slim” food days, imagine the conversation that parents must have with their children: “No, honey there isn’t anything else to eat. I’m sorry.”
What you see as anger or a sense of entitlement might just be frustration. It’s the same attitude you might have if you couldn’t afford to adequately feed your family.
●Don’t get discouraged. At the start of the 10-month financial literacy program that I run as a volunteer, the first meeting is always crowded with folks who say they want to be helped. Closer to the end of the course, a large percentage will have dropped out. The work was too hard.
Often my fellow volunteers get discouraged. Some get irritated when they show up and the people they want to help either don’t come or come unprepared.
But, as I tell them, even if we help only one family, we’ve made a difference.
●Don’t discriminate. Ideally, the people you help would acknowledge that you are making sacrifices of your time, money or both. They would utter “thank you” so many times it would become cloying.
But the truth is, some of the folks receiving assistance won’t be appreciative. They will complain. They may be mean.
And yet you should serve them all.
Remember this phrase: “Hurt people hurt people.”
You should not discriminate between the people “who actually want and appreciate help” and those who take a handout with a scowl.
Think about it. Have you ever received help, advice and even money that you didn’t appreciate at the time but later realized how it changed your life or made things better for you?
When I first went to live with my grandmother, Big Mama, I would cry myself to sleep because I didn’t want to live with her. I didn’t realize the financial security and stability she brought to my siblings and me. I later learned to appreciate what she did.
What if my grandmother had given me up because I didn’t seem grateful that she rescued me? Without her tough love and lessons about frugality, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
There is no perfect volunteer opportunity in which everyone sings your praises because you have helped them. When you volunteer, gratitude may come immediately. It may come later or never at all. Yet we can’t afford to only serve those we deem worthy.
Your compassion to assist people cannot and should not come with a gratitude test.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.